A mummified woman was found sitting up at her kitchen table two years after dying.
Italian police discovered 70-year-old Marinella Beretta, who had no living relatives, at her house in Prestino, near Lake Como in northern Italy.
Police had been at the property to do a house call during a period of high winds that destabilised neglected trees in her garden and created a threat to the building.
Neighbours had reportedly not seen her for at least two-and-a-half years, assuming that she had moved away.
Italy's family minister lamented the fact that elderly people are left to die such a lonely death.
"What happened to Marinella Beretta in Como, the forgotten loneliness, hurts our consciences," Family Minister Elena Bonetti said on Facebook.
"We have a duty, as a community that wants to remain united, to remember her life… no one must be left alone," she added.
Marinella was "loneliness personified", according to writer Massimo Gramellini on the front page of the Corriere della Sera daily newspaper.
"Many of us still have memories of the chaotic, branched families of peasant Italy. Instead, the modern family is reduced… People die alone. And we live alone, which is almost worse," he said.
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Police found nothing at the scene to suggest foul play and the council was expected to pay for her funeral and burial.
"The mystery of Marinella's invisible life behind the closed gate of her cottage teaches us a terrible lesson," the Messaggero daily said.
"The real sadness is not that the others did not notice her death. It is that they did not realise Marinella Beretta was alive."
Nearly 40% of over 75-year-olds in Italy live alone, according to a 2018 report by the national statistics institute (ISTAT).
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